I looked forward to this series of 25-page hardcover books on specific insects and insect look-alikes, hoping that, because of their size, they would fit into the much-needed Preschool - Grade3 level However, when I put the first page of two of the books, Painted Lady Butterflies and Silkworms, through my computer-aided reading analysis, Painted Lady had a Flesch reading ease of 51.4, a Flesch-Kincaid grade level of 8, a Coleman-Liau grade level of 14, and a Bormuth grade level of 10.2. Silkworms fared better, with a 71-percent reading ease, but the Flesch-Kincaid grade level was 4.8, the Coleman-Liau 10.4, and the Bormuth 9.6. [Au: The reading ease scores are meaningless without a scale. Please indicate.] Even reading on my own, without analysis, I found the word usage more suitable for the middle grades. However, in the middle-grade entomology category, one would expect a longer book with more depth. Without the nice pictures, there are only about 10 pages of text (albeit condensed) per book.
All of the preceding aside, Milkweed Bugs would be quite a nice book to have about, as these colorful orange-and-black insects are often seen by students. Since milkweed bugs feed only on milkweed plants, it would have been helpful if there were a photo of an entire milkweed plant that students could recognize. And I take exception to the experiment at the back of the book, which calls for five helium-filled balloons. Balloons cause a great deal of environmental damage if they land where sea creatures mistake them for food and choke on them. Mealworms follows the same format as Milkweed Bugs, introducing life stages on one page, body parts on the next page, and then facts about mealworms,mating and reproduction, larvae, molting, pupae, and adults on succeeding pageswhich brings us to a language problem. In each book, the plural of "larva" is "larvas." I hunted through my extensive entomology library, the dictionary, and the Internet, trying to check on this deviation from the standard plural, "larvae." Finally, I found "larvas" in an international dictionary as an alternative plural. If this is a new, generally acceptable, usage, it should be clarified in "Words to Know" at the back of each book.
Millipedes and Pillbugs are nice volumes, even given their short length, and they will add to general interest for middle school novices who want to know more about these fascinating insect look-alikes in the garden. However, The Pillbug Project, from National Science Teacher's Association, is a preferable classroom and library purchase. Silkworms is iffy, mostly because there is an initial statement which appears to say that all of the many "silk moths" spin silk that people can use. Actually, only a few do. After that statement, the book proceeds to cover the commercial silkworm topic well enough, but never specifies that Bombyx mori is the worm being referred to, although all of the text and all the photos are of this specific silkworm. There are also a few minor factual errors, mostly due to intermingling information about wild silkworm species with that concerned with the commercial Bombyx. Overall, this series is a good idea, and if children ages 7-10 have a specific interest, one or more of the books would be a nice addition to a library. However, I would purchase each individually as it is needed, rather than all of the books at once. (from the Life Cycles Series.) Acceptable, Grades 3-4. REVIEWER: L. Patricia Kite (U.S.D.)